Serving on the Front Lines of COVID-19

May 20, 2020

Michelle Chen“I wanted to be that person that could make a difference, and give patients who are having the worst day of their lives the best shot at life possible,” said Michelle Chen ’17, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for CARE ambulance.

She’s currently on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, serving the communities of Irvine and Santa Ana in Orange County. 

Chen, who was a pre-medical student in the Whittier Scholars Program, chose to become an EMT because she’s driven to help others in need. She would see car accidents on the freeway and feel like she could do more than call 9-1-1. When she volunteered at the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, she would see emergency room patients in critical condition and feel frustrated that she couldn’t do more than offer them small comforts like a warm blanket. 

“I just wanted to be helpful in some way, especially in emergency situations,” Chen said. “For the patients, but also for the patients’ families and loved ones, so they could continue to have their husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, or sister in their lives.”

Chen faces the public health challenge of COVID-19 every time she gets behind the wheel of her ambulance. For each call she answers, she must put on layers of personal protective equipment, including a gown, mask, and goggles. The equipment can make an already physically exhausting job even more taxing. 

“I remember I had a call for a patient in cardiac arrest,” Chen said “I was attending the individual in the back [of the ambulance] and performing compressions on them when my goggles began fogging up and I couldn’t see anything. My gown somehow came loose and was falling off my shoulders. Then, my N95 mask started cutting off my air supply.”

There is an emotional toll to the work Chen does as well. Hospitals are not allowing people to visit those who have COVID-19 for safety reasons, and Chen says it’s very difficult to tell this to patients’ family members and loved ones. She and her team also face the fear of simply not knowing if they are bringing the virus home to their families. They might transport a patient who has symptoms similar to COVID-19, but never know the results of the patient’s COVID-19 test. 

Despite the difficulties EMTs face right now, Chen feels like she’s answering her calling. “This is what I signed up for and I don’t regret it. Being in the healthcare field is very demanding, but to know you made an impact on someone’s life is incredibly rewarding.”